James W. Vanstone 1925-2001

  • William L. Sheppard
Keywords: VanStone, James W., 1925-2001, Biographies, Anthropology, Native peoples, Social change, Inuit archaeology, Indian archaeology, Research, Ethnography, Chipewyan Indians, Alaska, Kuskokwim River region, Hope, Point (68 20 N, 166 50 W), Lutsël K'é, N.W.T.


James W. VanStone died suddenly of heart failure on February 28, 2001 at the age of 75.... VanStone was one of anthropology's foremost and most prolific northern scholars.... Although VanStone's master's work was on Plains archaeology, we are fortunate that he met fellow Penn graduate student J. Louis Giddings and began to look north. In 1950, Jim accompanied Giddings to Norton Sound, Alaska, where they tested archaeological sites between Golovnin Bay and Shaktoolik and carried out the third season's excavation at Cape Denbigh.... In 1951, VanStone inherited the position formerly held by Giddings at the University of Alaska. While in Fairbanks, he did archaeological surveys and excavations on Nunivak Island, the Copper River, and the Kenai Peninsula. With Wendell Oswalt, VanStone co-founded Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska. During this period, Jim authored a number of papers. Perhaps the most significant was "Russian Exploration in Interior Alaska, an Extract from the Journal of Andrei Glazunov ... one of the first modern uses of Russian-language sources in Alaskan anthropology. Also during this period, he spent a full year living in Point Hope, the result of which was Point Hope: an Eskimo Village in Transition ... which remains a seminal work on Alaskan Eskimo modernization. Jim left the University of Alaska in 1958 and spent a year "bumming around Europe.... After his return to the United States, VanStone accepted a position at the University of Toronto, where he remained until 1966. While at Toronto, he initiated and carried out several significant projects, including ethnographic studies among the Chipewyan at Lutselk'e (formerly Snowdrift) and ethnohistorical and ethnoarchaeological studies in southwestern Alaska. VanStone and Wendell Oswalt's excavations at Crow Village on the Kuskokwim River pioneered the use of archaeology as a means to augment oral and written sources in constructing a historical ethnography of a Native people. The Crow Village work set the stage for much of VanStone's research between 1963 and 1979, which featured extensive use of archival sources, archaeology and ethnographic field studies in examining Alaska Native cultural change in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.... In the midst of this research, Jim returned to Chicago, becoming Curator of North American Archaeology and Ethnology for the Field Museum of Natural History, a position he held until his retirement in 1993.... In the course of his career, VanStone authored, co-authored, or edited more than 140 articles, books, and monographs. ... A nearly complete list of his publications can be found in the Arctic Anthropology festschrift, No Boundaries: Papers in Honor of James W. VanStone (Pratt et al., 1998)....